Backup QB is shaky insurance policy for Mizzou
If this hypothetical came to a Missouri fan in a dream, it would be classified as a nightmare.
Maty Mauk drops back to pass in The Swamp on Oct. 18. The Tigers again are a surprise atop the SEC East standings, in part due to an efficient, steadying effort from the sophomore quarterback. But he’s driven shoulder first into the field by a Gators defensive lineman.
He screams in pain, clutching at his limp throwing arm as trainers help him to the sideline.
Who enters the game next?
Faced with a similar situation last year, the team turned to Mauk, who guided the team to a 3-1 record against SEC competition and preserved a division title. No matter who wins the backup job this season, the Tigers are not winning an SEC East crown if Mauk misses significant time. He’s probably the team’s most irreplaceable player in 2014.
Barring a major injury, Mauk presumably will be the team’s starting quarterback in 2015 as well. Technically he’s eligible for the NFL Draft, but as a redshirt sophomore entering his first season as the starter, not to mention the stature of Drew Brees, he won’t declare after this season.
The winner of the backup quarterback competition theoretically earns the right to mop-up duty the next two seasons and nothing more. That said, Missouri’s backup signal-caller has taken control of the offense for four games in each of the last two seasons.
Incidentally, Corbin Berkstresser replaced an injured James Franklin in 2012. He completed 20-of-38 for two touchdowns and one interception in a loss at Texas A&M to close his redshirt freshman season, but also completed just 9-of-30 in a disappointing 19-15 loss to Vanderbilt, finishing the year with seven interceptions to five touchdowns.
Berkstresser attempted just one pass all of last season, falling behind Mauk as Franklin’s backup and enduring season-ending surgery in October. He is 6-foot-3, has spent four years in coach Gary Pinkel’s system and has played in 10 college games. Yet he failed to separate himself from redshirt freshman Eddie Printz. Despite the typical positive coachspeak from position coach Andy Hill, that’s not a comforting thought.
Missouri’s quarterbacks never missed a start in the 10 seasons prior to 2012, though, a streak that included NFL Draft picks Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert.
If Berkstresser does get another opportunity, he’s determined to perform better than he did in 2012, vowing to be at least as prepared as Mauk this season.
“I thought I was ready (in 2012), but after the fact, I’m like, ‘I have so much more to learn, so much more to improve on,” Berkstresser said, according the Columbia Tribune. “After the fact, I’m like, ‘I should have prepared 100 times better than that.’
“I’m just trying to prove myself. I definitely let down a lot of people that year. It’s definitely not what I wanted to be.”
To be fair, the offensive line was pretty beat up with Berkstresser took over, and he’s got an extra two years of development now. Missouri would hope for a competent quarterback who limits mistakes and makes sure the Tigers don’t beat themselves. If that sounds an awful lot like a game manager, you’re right. And at that, Berkstresser would need to make significant improvement.
Not inspiring stuff, but he likely is the best option.
Trent Hosick transferred to Northern Oklahoma A&M College, leaving Printz and early enrollee Marvin Zanders as the other options. Neither have taken a single college snap, obviously.
If this were a professional team, perhaps Missouri would slot one of the younger options as Mauk’s backup, playing for the future if the star gets hurt. But even after last year’s 12-2 finish, Pinkel doesn’t have that luxury in the SEC. If he thinks Berkstresser is even slightly better than Printz, even with a lower ceiling and knowing he won’t be a long-term factor, Berkstresser should be the backup.
“They’re pretty similar,” Hill said of Berkstresser and Printz, according to the Kansas City Star. “They’re both not super-fast guys, but they’re very mobile in the pocket. They can take care of it in the pocket and get away from people, but we’re counting on them to win with their arms and their decision-making. In that respect, they’re very similar. Were not going to be out there running a lot of read-option if those two guys are in the game, so they’re different than Maty in that respect.”
Berkstresser has gotten most all of the second-team reps at quarterback, but expect the two to split backup duty during Tuesday’s scrimmage.
Hill also suggested that Zanders, a more athletic option who ran for 15 touchdowns as a high school senior in 2013, needs more time to master the offensive system despite enrolling at Missouri early. But Zanders is intriguing nonetheless.
“He’s a special guy with the ball in his hands running,” Hill said, according to the Kansas City Star. “That always adds an added dimension if we want to sneak it in there on some people.”
In fact, Zanders’ running ability probably accounts for the biggest positive behind Mauk, though there’s a strong chance the Tigers will redshirt him this season.
I’d expect Berkstresser to win the competition, as he’s a more known quantity. Whether or not it’s the motivating factor for the coaching staff, I’m sure they hope to leverage the competition to push along Berkstresser’s growth.
The bottom line is that Missouri needs Mauk to stay healthy.